Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s future as Manchester United manager is hanging by a thread after their poor start to the season plunged to new depths on Sunday with the 5-0 defeat by Liverpool.
There is no sign of progression under the Norwegian, despite an enormous outlay in the transfer market on the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane this summer.
The abysmal performance against Liverpool saw Solskjaer’s side go in at half time 4-0 down and many Manchester United fans were pictured leaving Old Trafford at the interval.
With Solskjaer’s future now in serious doubt, United fan and writer Scott Patterson, of the Republik of Mancunia website, gives an insight into the mood of the fanbase…
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer no longer looks like a man in control at Manchester United and looks to have his days well and truly numbered following the huge defeat to Liverpool
With the run of form Manchester United have been on over the past couple of months, even if some fantastic late goals have given fleeting cause to celebrate, supporters entered Old Trafford on Sunday fearing the worst.
While United have a long established habit of showing up when the odds are against them, a pattern that has often repeated itself during Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s period in charge, it was hard to believe they could tap in to that against a Liverpool side that have been flying.
Still, that little voice inside was telling you that they might just turn things around was enough to give the smallest amount of hope. With less than quarter of an hour played, any optimism had vanished.
United players looked like they were on a wind up all afternoon, failing to get even the most basic of things right, which has to be testament to the coaching as well as their individual flaws. Kids at U-12 level would have been mortified by some of the errors United fans had to witness on Sunday.
For the first goal, Liverpool had all the time and space in the world as they attacked down the left flank, with the back four woefully dragged out of position, leaving Jurgen Klopp’s men lining up for the chance to score.
It was Naby Keita who got the goal but Trent Alexander-Arnold was also totally open on that side.
The same freedom was afforded for the second, with Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw comically colliding before Diogo Jota slid in at the back post which Aaron Wan-Bissaka should have been protecting, although James Milner was also unmarked if the Portuguese man had missed it.
Luke Shaw was lost at sea just minutes into the game as Naby Keita scored the opener
United then had six players in the final third when Mo Salah, one of three Liverpool players in the same area, picked up the ball.
Shaw looked over his shoulder in bewilderment as he saw Keita enter the space the left-back should have been occupying to claim an assist for Salah. It was Shaw again who left Salah unmarked to make it 4-0 by half-time.
Jose Mourinho once claimed that Shaw’s footballing brain wasn’t up to scratch, in comments that received wide criticism.
‘He was in front of me and I was making every decision for him,’ said Mourinho after a 1-1 draw with Everton in 2017. ‘He has to change his football brain.’
Mourinho had no right to humiliate Shaw this way in front of the press and following a great season for United last year, which was capped off with an even better display at the European Championships for England, it looked as though the left-back had put his early troubles at United behind him and had answered his former manager’s criticism.
The 5-0 thrashing turns the scrutiny onto Solskjaer like never before during his reign at United
But whether it’s a lack of fitness, an excuse that may also be made for Maguire, that might explain him not matching Salah for pace, the decision making by the pair was inexcusable. They looked like complete amateurs, not international footballers, and Maguire should fear losing the captaincy.
Paul Pogba replaced Mason Greenwood for the second half, with the youngster who Klopp had spoken so highly of before kick-off completing just 10 passes and having one attempt on goal, isolated for much of the game on the right.
The early weeks of the season had seen people wondering whether Pogba could break the record for Premier League assists, after claiming seven in his first four appearances.
On Sunday, it was the opposition he was providing joy for, when losing the ball on the halfway line five minutes after coming on. United’s defence were again ripped open, with Maguire failing to cut out the pass and Shaw unable to keep up with Salah who completed his hattrick.
The gloom hadn’t finished for United there though, even if Liverpool’s goals had. Cristiano Ronaldo scored a brilliant goal that was ruled out for offside, before substitute Pogba took an early bath after sliding in on Keita.
It was as if the United players were trolling the fans at this point, with Bruno Fernandes misplacing a pass to Pogba that only had to travel for a few yards, before the Frenchman lunged in to try and retain possession.
The away ended gloated ‘Ole’s at the wheel’, mimicking the chant United fans have sung religiously for the manager, and it was agony to hear. While there aren’t any trophies handed out for having top fans, the crowd rallied behind the team until the final whistle, with The Red Army singing section leading the songs continuously.
We saw similar atmospheres in the painful consecutive 3-0 defeats to City and Liverpool under Moyes too, when it became clear his time was almost up.
There’s a defiance in United’s match-going fans that should be lauded and if the players could exhibit just an ounce of that passion the club wouldn’t be in the position they are in now.
But even with an increased amount of drive and dedication, it’s unlikely they’d find themselves as high up the table as a squad boasting this talent should be.
In terms of humiliation, this was as bad as it’s been for United in decades. Even the 6-1 results against Manchester City and Tottenham can’t be compared, given the scorelines had been respectable before the sendings off, with Roberto Mancini’s players scoring half their goals from the 89th minute onwards when United inexplicably were still pouring forward to try and score. Even Sir Alex Ferguson was capable of a tactical disasterclass on occasion.
Solskjaer has talked about his next three games but that is a privilege he wouldn’t be afforded elsewhere, and even with the willingness of the club’s decision-makers to cling on to managers once it’s clear the damage is irreparable, he may be optimistic to think he has a future at Old Trafford.
Fergie’s final words to the Old Trafford crowd in May 2013 was to ‘stand by the new manager’ and it’s something the club and fanbase has stuck to, always to their detriment.
After taking the champions to seventh in the table, David Moyes was only sacked once it became mathematically impossible to qualify for the Champions League.
While United got an FA Cup out of Louis van Gaal in his final season, the football was unbearable to watch and he missed out on Europe’s elite competition on goal difference. Given United only scored 49 goals, their lowest tally in Premier League history, the fifth-placed finish didn’t come as a surprise.
Finally Ole’s predecessor, Jose Mourinho, provided more silverware than all the others combined, even if only the lesser coveted League Cup and Europa League, but the weekly public shamings he dished out to the players saw morale at all-time low, as they slipped further and further down the table.
Solskjaer has been well backed at United and was able to bring Cristiano Ronaldo back to Old Trafford, yet the results have been going from bad to worse this season
It’s hard to explain how a manager who enjoyed a relatively successful opening couple of years, given the context of the state of the squad, the position in the league and the mood around Old Trafford, has got is as badly wrong as Solskjaer has now.
He’s assembled the best team United have had for 10 years, we improved on league position every season while also contending with more games as he progressed further in cup competitions (albeit without achieving the necessary trophy lift) and the dressing room was happy.
Yet it says something about the flaws of Solskjaer and his chosen coaching staff that, remarkably with the additions of three world-class players, United have declined so badly.
While the eight point gap with City last season obviously wasn’t worth celebrating, it’s the closest we’ve finished to first place since Ferguson (with Mourinho finishing 19 points behind them when runners up in 2018).
Pep Guardiola’s team were the only side to score more goals and win more games than us, despite losing at home to United as they had the season before, meaning we had an excellent starting point to build upon from this season.
Even the most devout Solskjaer supporters are now struggling to make excuses for him to stay
The opening day 5-1 thrashing of Leeds suggested that was exactly what was going to happen too, but they’ve had to slog to get to where they find themselves now, top of their Champions League group but seventh in the league table.
Those loyal to Solskjaer were hoping he would do what he’s done so many times before, and turn things around with big results in big games when it had looked like the pressure was becoming too much.
But with every passing week it’s become harder to retain that hope and the manner of the defeat against Liverpool provides undeniable evidence that things are unlikely to get better. The man who wasn’t qualified to begin with, who got the position permanently because of what he’d achieved on the job, may just have reached the ceiling of his ability.
We became a better, happier team under Solskjaer, playing football that more closely resembled what he had been used to than under any manager post-Fergie. With Ole, United have scored five goals in a match on ten occasions in his 164 games in charge. With the three managers before him, it happened twice in 302 games.
Yet a general improvement in attacking football, with a lifted mood behind the scenes, but no trophies to show for it and performances waning for months, means the United legend is now on borrowed time.
It’s OK to accept that without slandering the man whose 20Legend banner hung at Old Trafford long before he was appointed manager. But it’s hard for even the most devout supporters of Solskjaer to argue he should be given more time now.